Nov 9, 2012

Reporting from
The Front Lines

Beginning the clean-up on Randall's Island

When you garden on an island, you become attuned to the changes in the water that surrounds you.  I did not go to work for two days during Hurricane Sandy.  I heard the wind and saw the rain from my apartment in Manhattan.  I imagined what was happening on Randall's Island.  Crossing the Triborough Bridge on Wednesday, I could feel my jaw tightened as my car descended the off ramp to the island.  Eunyoung Sebazco and I had our coffee and took a ride around the island.  

The gardens on Randalls are spread out over 480 acres, but all are pretty close to the water.  It was as if someone had drawn a line in the gardens.  That line was where the water came up, dumped debris and receded.  For a gardener, the question is how long did the salt water remain on the plants.  Since no one was  walking around the island in the storm, it is impossible to know how much damage the saltwater did to our plants.

Our fellow gardeners at Battery Park and The High Line are flushing out their gardens with their irrigation systems.  We have no irrigation in any of our gardens.  What to do?  Everything looks good now, but that doesn't mean anything.  It's a wait and see game.  We are taking our lists of plants for each garden and are in the process of finding a way social media can help us.  Almost every large garden, divides their plants in the Spring and almost every garden has some extra.  Modeled on seed exchanges; we are building a network, so we can have a much needed plant exchange in the Spring. There just might be a silver lining to this horticultural disaster: a real cross-pollution of plants and friendships.

I found this little article from the University of Connecticut, Department of Plant Science helpful.

Salt Water Contamination of Soils by Hurricane Sandy
Many coastal Connecticut residents have contacted the University of Connecticut Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory because of their concerns of salt contamination from either flooding or storm surges. The amount of damage done to plants will depend on the salinity of the water, how long the plants were in contact with it, and also, to some extent on plant species. The best way to counteract the desiccation caused by salts is to leach them out with fresh water. With more rain in the forecast for later this week, the salt problem may be taken care of in sandy, well-drained soils. Greatest problems for plants are those situated in low lying, poorly drained or heavily flooded areas and even with more rain, there is no place for the salts to go. In all likelihood, plants in these areas will die, the salts will leach out eventually over the winter and the area would need to be replanted next spring. Gypsum is not especially effective except in limited circumstances. The lab does offer testing of soluble salt levels. For more information, call us at (860) 486-4274 or visit Another issue to consider besides salt, is the possibility for contamination from septic systems, water treatment plants, businesses, industry and waste sites. Testing for these types of materials is more difficult and costly.



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